Govt aid offsets Covid food insecurity: Study

FE REPORT | Saturday, 10 April 2021

The government's support strengthened the food security of rural households in 2021, following the Covid-induced lockdown during April-May last year, according to a study.
However, the overall food security is yet to reach the pre-pandemic level.
The government had provided the support in cash and kind to the rural households for ensuring food availability according to the study.
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRI)/Cornell University conducted the study based on phone-survey in 2020 and 2021. They analysed the pre-Covid household data under four categories.
Using the pre-pandemic and two rounds of post-pandemic onset data, a policy note based on the study described the patterns of socioeconomic and food security characteristics and coping mechanisms over time among the rural households in Bangladesh.
In June 2020, approximately two months after the lockdown had started, there was a substantial rise in food insecurity among the rural samples in tandem with increasing unemployment and income losses.
By January 2021, the proportion of 'severely food insecure' households shrank to 1.8 per cent- comparable to the pre-pandemic period (2.9 per cent).
'Moderate food insecurity', another type of category, returned to around the same pre-pandemic average. Pre-pandemic average was 12 per cent and now in January 2021 it was 14 per cent.
While this is encouraging, the proportion of households reporting 'mild food insecurity' increased from the pre-pandemic average of 30.6 per cent to 55.6 per cent in January 2021.
In the 'no food insecurity' category, which dropped from 54.4 per cent before the pandemic to 28.8 per cent in January 2021.
However, the government provided three types of support - cash, cash (Covid-related) and in-kind (free).
Until January 2021, 35 per cent households received the cash, 12 per cent cash (Covid-related) and 22 per cent in-kind.
The policy note suggested that the immediate onset of coronavirus, combined with the lockdown restrictions imposed from March through May in 2020, contributed to increases in unemployment, income losses, and food insecurity.
A substantial share of the rural sample reported receiving cash or in-kind support during the pandemic, mostly from government sources, although these shares were smaller than the overwhelming majority who reported recent decreases in earned income and the use of coping strategies like selling their assets or borrowing money.
Many households reduced food and non-food expenditures, spent savings, or borrowed money or food, potentially making them less resilient to future shocks.
These negative effects were heterogeneous across occupational groups, although low-paid, low-skilled workers who were more likely to be operating in sectors affected by lockdowns were relatively more hard-hit in June 2020.
Encouragingly, 10 months after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment fell, income losses were diminished, and there were reductions in the prevalence of moderate and severe food insecurity.
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